11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life

Living abroad is bound to change you.  It has definitely changed me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not going to say that living in Jakarta has completely transformed everything about me, but it has impacted my life in some pretty incredible ways.

If you’ve been following along on this whole journey with me you’ll know that living abroad hasn’t always been a smooth ride for me.  But I’m pretty sure that’s normal…right?  Ups and downs aside this experience has been a life changing one.  Here are just a few of the ways living abroad has changed me.

Why 11?  Well, because that’s the number of months I’ve been living in Jakarta!

11 Ways Living Abroad Has Changed My Life…

1. I’m more independent

When I first moved to Jakarta I wrote a post all about the pros and cons of living abroad.  In that post I listed “being more independent” under the cons section.  I realize that sounds odd, but hear me out.

I knew that even though I was moving to Jakarta with my boyfriend I would still be depending on myself a lot and in ways I never had before.  I had no friends and no job.  I didn’t know the language or really anything about Jakarta.  Aside from Aaron nothing was familiar about this city.  And that was terrifying.

I had to depend on myself a lot.  I had to figured out where to shop for groceries and how to pay bills (it sounds simple but I assure you it was not!).  I had to find a job and navigate this crazy city day in and day out.  I had to travel alone (for the first time ever) to go on visa runs.  These things pushed me way outside of my comfort zone but I’m so grateful.

11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life - Travel Lush
The first photo I took of Jakarta…it’s not so scary anymore!

I came here a nervous wreck. But looking back at the person who arrived in Jakarta 11 months ago I’m shocked at how much I’ve overcome and how much I’ve grown.  The confidence I’ve gained in knowing that I can depend on myself is mind blowing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a nervous wreck, always will be, but I’ve come a long way.

2. It led me down a different career path

When I moved to Jakarta I was under the impression that my only option was to teach English.  The problem was that I had no real interest in teaching.  And considering public speaking is my greatest fear, the whole thing caused me all sorts of stress.  It turns out that getting a job in Indonesia is complex and the visa process takes many, many months.  So I started exploring other avenues.  My education and background is actually in journalism and magazine writing, a career I had pretty much given up on three years ago.

But with no other options in Jakarta I started sending out applications and pitch letters.  It took a few months but I finally started getting writing gigs.  It was an amazing feeling to see my name in print after such a long hiatus.  And it was the first time I’d ever published travel articles, which was a dream come true for me.  It feels so good to make a (small) living doing something that I truly love.  Had I not moved abroad I might never have tried writing for a living again.  Looking back I am so glad the whole teaching English thing didn’t work out!

3. I met people I would have never met in the US

I think this is the reason most people choose to live abroad.  We all want to be as immersed in a new place and a new culture as possible.  Meeting locals is a huge part of living abroad.

Jakarta hasn’t been the easiest place to be a newbie expat, but for me personally it was the people I met who made living here such a special experience.  Seriously, never did I think that I could befriend people who are so different than me.  I’ve met people from all walks of life.  They come from every corner of Indonesia and various countries around the world.  They are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and agnostic.

11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life - Travel Lush
Aaron and some of his amazing students. FYI, it was requested that Aaron look “serious” in this photo…

It is amazing to me that I could bond so easily with people who are so fundamentally different from me.  But we were able to bond over our sarcastic senses of humor, our genuine curiosities in one another, our hatred of Jakarta’s traffic jams.  We might be different people from different backgrounds but we are all just people.  And I’ve met some incredible ones here in Jakarta.

4. I learned that it’s okay to take the unconventional route in life

I’ve never led a so-called “normal” life.  My friends and family back home have always thought that my penny pinching and constant need to travel was a little odd.  (It’s okay guys…I can admit that I’m a little odd.)  Now that I’m 33 my life decisions are even more mind boggling to most people back home.  While most of my friends back in California are getting married, buying houses, having kids or pursuing successful careers, I don’t have any plans of doing these things.  Aside from the career part, that is.

This has always been a sensitive issue for me.  I’ve had more than a few breakdowns about what it is that I’m doing with my life.   And I’m certain I’ll have many more.  But now that I’m making a life and career for myself abroad and meeting so many like-minded people, I’ve started to feel much more at peace with and confident about my life decisions.  Because ultimately I just want to do what it is that makes me happy.  And seeing the world, writing about it and feeling like I’m living each day to the fullest makes me happy.

5. I’ve been able to travel more

Southeast Asia used to be a place I could only visit once every few years from the states.  And even then I could only manage to travel for a few weeks at a time.  While I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like (which would be always) living abroad means that Southeast Asia is my playground.  In the past 11 months I’ve been able to take weekend trips to Bali, vacations to Cambodia, visa runs to Singapore and Malaysia and beach runs to the Philippines (I’ll be there in a couple days!).  Being in such close proximity to so many amazing countries has been a dream come true for me.

11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life - Travel Lush
See you soon Boracay!

6. I realized I don’t need a lot to be happy

Living in Southeast Asia has made me realize that I can live on very little money every month and still be perfectly content.  One of the perks of being an expat in Southeast Asia is that the cost of living is so much less than in the US, especially Southern California.  I have been able to live incredibly comfortably on  way less than $1000 a month in Jakarta.  And supposedly the cost of living will be even less in Phnom Penh.  It’s nice not having to work myself to death at a job I hate just to struggle to pay my bills or take vacations.  Being able to live in a decent apartment, travel when I want and go out to dinner or a movie makes me perfectly content.  Like I said, I don’t need a lot to be happy.

11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life - Travel Lush
Money goes a long way in Southeast Asia!

I suppose I really learned this lesson during my year-long backpacking trip.  But living abroad has also made me realize that I don’t need tons of stuff.  I’ve always been kind of a minimalist and I’ve never been what you’d call a materialistic person.  Even still, when I moved out of my house in San Diego in 2013 it astonished me just how much stuff I had accumulated over the years.

Seriously, my garage was stuffed with all sorts of knick knacks that hadn’t been used in years and years.  I took a different approach in Jakarta.  I can still literally fit all of my possession into two suitcases.  And there’s something incredibly freeing about that.

7. I seek out things that make me uncomfortable

This is something I typically do when I travel, but this is not something I do in my normal life.  I don’t like feeling uncomfortable!  But I suppose when you live abroad you don’t really have a choice…and I’m starting to like that aspect of living abroad.

One thing I didn’t expect about moving abroad was that I would actively seek out things that make me feel uncomfortable.  Like that time I took off to Bali on my first-ever solo trip or signed up to attend my first-ever travel blogging conference.  These things scare me, and I would have never considered doing them before I moved abroad.  But now I know that these things are going to ultimately be awesome experiences that will help me grow both personally and professionally.

11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life - Travel Lush
Exploring Bali’s rice terraces during my first real solo trip.

It might sound cliché, but at this point in my life I’m all about growing and stepping outside of my comfort zone and living abroad has helped me to do just that.

8. I’ve learned to be more open and patient

I’ve always tried to be an open-minded person and I’m a firm believer that traveling has really helped me to be more open.  But there is something about living abroad that sort of forces you to keep opening your mind.  If you don’t you might just hate the experience!

Living abroad, I’ve encountered all sorts of quirky cultural customs.  While I’ve adapted to many of them, there are still so many that leave me baffled and even upset.  There are a lot of things about life in Indonesia that I wouldn’t necessarily tolerate back in the US (like my really annoying upstairs neighbors).  But I’ve had to learn to be more patient, otherwise living in Jakarta might have driven me insane!

9. I’m no longer so fearful of the unknown

Not knowing what’s going to come next has always scared the hell out of me.  It’s not like I’m some great planner or anything…in fact the opposite is true.  But I still don’t like the feeling of not knowing what’s going to come next.

When I was backpacking around Southeast Asia and South America last year, I really disliked the fact that I had no real plan for what would come next.  When I moved abroad to Jakarta I hated the fact that I didn’t have a job lined up.  It was probably my number one source of anxiety.  But now that I’m moving to Phnom Penh, I’m slightly more relaxed about not knowing exactly where I’ll live or where my next paycheck is going to come from.  That’s the thing about living abroad…you never know what’s going to happen.  And it’s kind of exciting knowing that anything is possible.

10. It led to Cambodia

Seriously, if you’d asked me what I was going to do after my year in Jakarta was finished my answer would have been, “I have no idea!”  But that’s the thing about living abroad…you have no idea where it’s going to lead.  For me, or shall I say for Aaron and I, it led to moving to Cambodia.  It turns out that getting experience teaching at international universities makes you pretty competitive in the international market.  Aaron’s job in Jakarta opened doors in multiple other countries, which is amazing for travel fiends like us.  And after our time in Cambodia is up who knows where it will lead.  (Maybe Europe?  Just putting it out there…)

11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life - Travel Lush
I’m so excited to move to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in August!

11. I learned that things have a way of working out

I tend to be more on the pessimistic side, so this isn’t something I’d typically say.  But my experience during the last two years has made me a believer.  I put an absurd amount of energy into being stressed out about what I was going to do after our big backpacking trip.  And then Jakarta happened.  In Jakarta I spent months worrying about getting a job teaching English and then my freelance writing career started to take off.  I spent months freaking out about where Aaron and I would move after Jakarta.  And then Cambodia happened.  You get the point…

Somehow things just have a way of working out.  And I’m so excited to see where else this crazy living abroad journey is going to take me.  I really do feel like the world is my oyster!

Have you ever lived in a foreign country?  How did living abroad change your life?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

22 thoughts on “11 Ways Living Abroad Changed My Life

  1. Happy that things are working out for you. I tend to believe that when one door closes, another one will surely open down the road. It would seem that I have forgotten this but I’m happy that you reminded me of this! There’s just been so many things that were going on this year that it was getting to me..I must remember to push myself out of my comfort zone and worry less..hahaha…anyway, hope that your move goes smoothly and look forward to reading about your new home soon..
    Sha recently posted…What I Learnt from My Solo Trip to Perth

    1. I’m starting become more of an optimist in that regard 😉 Sometimes we need to be reminded that everything is going to work out in the end. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all the stresses in life. And it’s always good to take a step back and realize everything’s going to be just fine. That being said, I need to worry less too 😉

  2. Great blog Justine! I’m sure living in Jakarta has grown Aaron as well! I am so happy for you and Aaron to be moving to Cambodia. Never thought I’d say that! See growth is contagious. Have a great vacation and see you soon!

    1. Thanks Cindy! Yes, Aaron has had an incredible experience. Just look at him with those kids. I can’t even tell you how cool it was to see him with them. And they absolutely love him 🙂 Yes, we will see you soon. I can’t wait to eat a trillion burritos in California!!

  3. Despite the struggles and stresses, I love how living in Jakarta has had such a positive influence on your life! Even though I haven’t been living abroad nearly as long as you, I can definitely appreciate the growth and changes that have occurred in my life already. I know many of my friends and family also can’t completely understand why I would choose to live abroad, but I think the entire experience can be so enriching to your life as a whole!
    Ashley recently posted…Edinburgh Through the Eyes of a Photographer

    1. I completely agree. The first few months were particularly hard for me but even then I was aware of just how much stronger the experience was making me. Luckily things have gotten much better and the experience has been pretty amazing overall. But I really do appreciate both the ups and the downs. It has definitely been such an enriching experience. I’m sure your time abroad is going to be absolutely amazing 🙂

  4. Congrats on coming such a far distance! I feel like your experience was probably mine multiplied by about a million. I hope to someday move to a ‘scarier’ destination as an expat, and it’s good to see through your eyes how it’s all worked out in the end!
    Julie recently posted…Maltby Street Market

    1. Thanks Julie! Ha, Jakarta definitely wasn’t the easiest place to transition into expat life. Regardless, I ended up having an enriching experience. I have this feeling that Cambodia will be easier. But hopefully I’m not kidding myself! I think it still qualifies as a “scary” country…I suppose we’ll see 🙂 I’m seriously crossing my fingers that I’ll have the chance to live in Europe someday like you 😉

  5. This is a great post! I’m not living the expat life, but have “lived” as tourist (working remotely) in Brazil for the past three months and completely relate to so much of what you’ve said here, especially in how much patience it has taught me and how much easier it’s become to deal with the unknown. Good luck on your next adventure!
    Kacy recently posted…Traveling Slow in Brazil

    1. Hi Kacy! I imagine living in Brazil is amazing. But it also sounds like it could be a challenging place to be. I’m sure you’re experiencing all sorts of life lessons through that experience 🙂

  6. One way that travel has changed my life is that I was able to meet people even in the U.S. that I wouldn’t have been able to meet if I hadn’t traveled abroad. I’ve met some interesting people in the U.S. – especially through the JET Program Alumni Association. I also discovered hobbies that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t worked abroad – like taiko.
    Rashaad recently posted…Top Ten UK Moments (5-1)

    1. That’s awesome Rashaad. It sounds like living abroad has opened your world up. It does have a way of just putting you out there and that’s probably the thing I appreciate the most about the experience 🙂

  7. My favorites are number 6 and number 11! Things DO really have a way of working themselves out, I think it’s just that we have a hard time imagining what that’s going to look like, and that scares us. So happy for all the things you’ve gotten out of living abroad and really excited to see what kind of opportunities come around for you in Cambodia! 🙂
    Leah recently posted…13 Delectable Greek Foods I’d Fly to Back to Greece For in a Heartbeat

    1. So true. It really is weird how everything ended up working out so well in Jakarta. Considering how rocky the start was, it’s unbelievable how positive the experience ended up being. I know I said things have a way of working themselves out but I still have jitters about Cambodia…mainly about work. But I feel a lot more confident this time around.

  8. Great post, really enjoyed reading it.

    I’m a year into being back in Australia after seven years abroad and it really did change my life. Definitely agree with what you’ve written here but I also found the adjustment to coming back home was a bit of a shock too!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Jade 🙂 I cannot imagine how strange it would be to go back home after seven years abroad. It was weird enough for me to be back in California after being away for a year! I know I have at least two years in Cambodia, so if I do go back to the States afterwards it’s going to be a major adjustment. For sure!

  9. I’ve been living in Indonesia for two years and I took a teaching job that I have really not enjoyed. I wish I had kept looking like you did! The job meant and easy visa so I just said yes and I’ve regretted it ever since. I’m finishing up the school year now so it’s almost over!
    Amanda recently posted…Springtime in Central Java

    1. Oh my gosh Amanda you have no idea what a nightmare that job hunting experience was for me. When I first got there no one would even consider getting me a visa. After almost four dejecting months Wall Street English was the only option I found, and I was literally about to take the job of my nightmares when my dream freelance gig at the Post came along. It was such luck. Honestly my resume was just handed to someone who needed exactly my skill set. Getting that gig made my time in Indonesia amazing. Had I been working at Wall Street English I might not have lasted!! Glad your job is wrapping up and you’ll be living it up in Seattle soon!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge